"I'm sorry, do we know each other?"
After Hermione had finished crying Harry had held her until dawns light broke over the horizon. It wasn't until birds started to chirp that Harry shifted his stiff muscles, body protesting over the way it had been treated.
Hermione pulled away slightly and sniffed, scrubbing at her eyes before standing with a small groan. She stared at the gravestones for a long moment, then squared her shoulders and turned back to Harry, grabbing his hand and pulling him up.
"Come on," she murmured, "let's go home."
Grimmauld Place, surprisingly, wasn't as gloomy as it should have been. It was probably due to the bright sunlight streaming in through the recently cleaned front windows. Harry scowled as he sprawled on one of the settees, flicking his wand to close the curtains almost violently.
Even the weather seemed to be celebrating the end of the war.
Hermione followed him in and rolled her eyes fondly, flicking her own wand to open the curtains again.
Harry turned to her but before he could say anything she cut him off with a "Sunlight's good for you."
Harry humpfed but the corner of his lips twitched up in a miniscule smile and Hermione felt something in her unclench. Maybe things would be alright in the end after all.
She sat down gingerly, not really trusting the rickety looking furniture.
They stayed silent; their gazes drawn to the window, watching the light brighten slowly. It wasn't until people started walking about outside on the street that Hermione thought it prudent to break the quiet.
"Harry," her voice came out as a whisper instead of how she had meant it, "Are you okay? How do you feel?" she added after realising the stupidity of her first question.
Harry took off his glasses and pressed his knuckles against his eyes, a wry, humourless smile twisting his lips. "Empty." He answered, "How about you?"
"Empty." She agreed, thinking for a moment. "And tired."
Harry let out a huff of helpless laughter before falling silent once again. "This is," his voice cracked and Hermione turned to see a tear run down his cheek as he cleared his throat, "this is all fucked up."
Hermione didn't even try and bother to chastise him for his language; instead she bowed her head and stared at her knotted fingers. "I…" she trailed off, "I was thinking we should get away."
There was a pause, and then Harry lifted his hands away from his face and pushed himself up on his elbows so he had a clear view of her.
Hermione kept her head bent, talking more to her lap then to her best (and now only living) friend.
"Just, I…don't think I can deal with magic at the moment. All around me. Not after it…it's the reason they're gone."
She trailed off and Harry let his chin drop to his chest as he thought.
Hermione's head jerked up and Harry wryly smiled at the hopeful tears gathering in her eyes.
"R-really?" she asked hesitantly.
Harry shrugged awkwardly, "Yeah. You're my family Hermione. If this will help you…"
Hermione smiled at him, and then frowned. "But what about you?"
Harry ducked his head. "Honestly?" he asked quietly, "I…I don't know what to think or feel. I…I just feel…numb. Maybe this will help me too?"
Silence fell once more, but this time it was more comfortable than empty.
"We'll come back." Hermione said. Harry looked back at her in question. "Back to the magical world." She clarified. "Once it doesn't hurt so much…maybe we can finish our muggle education? Go to university?"
Harry grimaced in distaste. More work? But when he saw Hermione's wistful expression as she stared out the window, rubbing her bare ring finger, he couldn't find it in himself to disagree. Besides, it wasn't as if he had any idea what he wanted to do anyway. And it was…kind of relaxing, letting someone else plan and take away the immediate, empty future.
Hermione seemed a little calmer as well.
And it wasn't as if whatever they decided to do right now would affect them for the rest of their lives. Harry was quite certain that if he discovered something that called to him, Hermione would be overjoyed and would push him into it if he faltered.
"So…" he said, "University?"
Hermione nodded. "Yeah, there are a dozen or so magical universities across the globe."
"There are more universities than schools?" Harry asked in some surprise.
Hermione shrugged. "The universities are more specialized into different subject areas. One for charms, one for transfiguration, like that. Though in America there's a university that has tied itself to a muggle one – you can mix up the subjects between magic and muggle. Mostly muggleborns and half-bloods go to that one. It's also the only university that has a mixture of subjects. I know for a fact that they have a magic/muggle law program and they have stuff like potions and chemistry too."
Harry stared in shock as Hermione babbled at him. This was the most he had seen her say in one sitting for months. Just talking about it seemed to revive her. Whatever doubts he might have had disappeared when he spotted the small spark in her eyes; one that had been missing for over a year.
They weren't healed yet, not even close, but they had so much practise with just picking whatever they could scrape together of their souls and moving forward that Harry could feel something inside him become a little lighter.
This was familiar. He could deal with this. This was just like the months that Ron had disappeared when they were travelling.
It was easier to think that he had gone back to his family than about the fact that they weren't going to see him in this plane of existence anymore.
"Guess I've never really thought about university."
"Oh," Hermione shifted looking disappointed, "sorry, did you want to go straight into an apprenticeship or training program?" Her voice dropped, "Ron told me about how you wanted to be an Auror-"
Hermione jumped at the shout and Harry flushed at the shocked look she gave him.
"No," he repeated quietly, "that was something that Ron and I were…" he trailed off and shook his head helplessly, "It doesn't feel right without him beside me. I don't even know if I could fight as a career without him to-"
He trailed off into silence but it didn't stop the sentence from being finished. To stand beside me. To save me. To keep me sane.
Hermione nodded slowly. "Well…" she said, "that rules out training programs. Wand crafting and the like are apprenticeships." She took one look at Harry's face and let out a small laugh before looking stunned at her actions.
Harry found a small smile just that little bit easier to do. "Honestly Hermione, if you'd seen me when I was trying to find my wand the first time I don't think you'd be suggesting me getting any closer to hundreds of unpurchased ones. I don't think Ollivanders had seen so much destruction…"
Until last year…
A sense of melancholy fell over the room as they both remembered the destruction the war had wrought.
Hermione broke it by shivering. "What about teaching then?"
Harry shot up from his place on the settee as he slashed his hand through the air. "NO!" He took a great trembling breath to try and calm his frayed nerves and when that didn't work he stormed over to the barren fireplace and rested against the mantelpiece.
"Mione, I can't-" his voice cracked as he started to tremble. "I taught defence, I know that. But we two are the only ones that survived. Even from that group. I-"
The sob didn't escape his lips until he felt Hermione slip her arms around his waist and rest her head between his shoulder blades.
"It's not your fault, Harry. You were a great teacher."
"But what if I taught them wrong? What if that knowledge failed when they needed it most?" his voice dropped to a whisper, "What if it's my fault? I have luck and you have enough smarts to counteract-"
He was cut off as he was spun around almost violently but instead of the slap he was half expecting, Hermione dragged his head down until it was pressed against her shoulder.
"No, Harry." She said, "You were a great teacher."
She didn't push him away as he cried.
It was hours later as they sat curled around cups of tea in the kitchen that Hermione chose to pick up the conversation again.
"So, what would make you happy?"
Harry shrugged. "I was good at defence."
Hermione managed a small eye-roll. "I asked what would make you happy, not what you were good at."
Harry scowled into his steaming mug. "I don't know."
"Well," Hermione said slowly, "when were you last really happy and what were you doing? And by that I don't mean the Boy-Who-Lived, or the Chosen One, or Harry Potter or anything like that. I mean just you. Harry."
Harry sighed and leant back, closing his eyes to try and recall the last time he was actually happy. There was a certain sense of tragedy about the whole thing that it was actually a really difficult task.
When he finally did have his answer he blinked open his eyes in surprise.
Hermione was staring at him patiently. Waiting for him to work through his thoughts and memories.
She tilted her head in curiosity, "You can draw? I didn't know that."
Harry smiled ruefully, "I was actually pretty good." He shrugged, "But there was the whole thing with the Dursley's about not being better than Dudley. And it took me a while in Hogwarts to get over that, but by the time I realised that I could do something that I wanted, Dean was the Gryffindor boy who could draw and I didn't want anyone to think that the boy-who-lived was stealing that title from him."
He glanced up to see Hermione scowling at him. "That's ridiculous." She said shortly, then sighed, "But I can see how it happened. And really, it's too late now to change.
"So," she mused, "drawing, eh?"
"Yeah." Harry agreed sheepishly.
"And do you have any idea what you want to do with your life?" Hermione asked, ignoring Harry's small groan, "You already said no teaching or Auror work. What about politics?"
Harry's groan got louder and Hermione had to hide a smile.
"More your area of expertise than mine. Besides, I have no patience whatsoever."
"Don't really want to look at blood or injuries ever again, Mione. Not if I can help it."
Hermione rubbed her fingers against her bottom lip as she thought. "Quiddich?"
Harry grimaced, "Well, I like flying, but more as a way to get away. I don't think I could do it as a job. Just think of the fans." He added with a look of horror.
"Okay, no quiddich." This time Hermione couldn't hide her smile.
Harry propped his chin in his palm, staring at the steam coming from his mug. "I…I dunno Mione. Just…I want to do something that would help people. Something so that they can remember their family, their friends. People who aren't here anymore. I…I want the children orphaned by the last stupid wars to be able to know their families. To not have to be alone."
The 'like I was' went unsaid.
Harry looked at Hermione like she had lost her mind. "What?"
She ignored the weird look, the spark returning to her eyes as she rolled with the ball. "Portraits! You could do something in magical portraits! It's art and it allows people to get to know those that have gone!"
Harry opened his mouth to refute the idea, but the more he thought about it the less crazy it sounded. Eventually he just said, "But how? I haven't drawn properly in seven years."
Hermione waved his concerns off, "We have years, Harry. I know that Hogwarts translates its courses into the muggle equivalent if needed but we don't have to do this straight away. Practise until you feel ready and then we'll apply together."
Harry felt the beginnings of something stirring in his chest. "But what about you?" he asked, "What are you going to do?"
"Oh, don't worry about me. I've got some research to do."
And really, if that wasn't a sign that Hermione was going to be able to cope with this, then Harry didn't know what was.
It had taken three years until Harry was happy with the level he was drawing at to apply to university.
Hermione, after copious research, had decided that although there were universities that specialised in their chosen subject areas, there was only one that did both. This was how, after being a little stunned at being accepted, Harry found himself waiting for an international portkey that would take both Hermione and himself to the American Ministry where they would need to register and from there another portkey to New Orleans.
Hermione had gone into Magical Law, with a major in Creature Rights and a minor in Muggle Defence Attorney. Harry had majored in Magical Portraits with a minor in Muggle Fine Art and was really looking forward to his course. He even had the workings of a major piece in mind – the entire Weasley family plus Hermione and himself, but didn't want to start it until he was more proficient. It wouldn't move, but Harry was okay with that. He just wanted to make a recognisable tribute to the family that had taken him in, even though they didn't have to.
And despite hating portkeys with a passion, when Harry stepped forward and placed his hand on the car tyre and caught Hermione's eye, he couldn't help but grin.
The course was hard but Harry had not felt so at peace with himself in a long time. He was also coming along quite well; his muggle teachers kept complementing him on the use of fantasy elements in his work.
He sometimes wondered what they would think if they knew that everything he painted was real.
Right now he was trying to improve his portrait work. Hermione had consented (after weeks of nagging and multiple assurances that he wouldn't make her ugly) to being a model and once he had enough sketches he was to enchant his medium to try and capture the personality of her in his work.
It hadn't worked out the first few times, so he was practising his sketching before he activated any of the spell work.
His stomach rumbled loudly enough to distract him and Harry glanced at his watch. It was three in the afternoon. He felt a jolt of fear go through him and rubbed under his left eye. Oh crap. He had said he would meet Hermione for lunch two hours ago. She was going to kill him!
Panicking he shoved his art materials back into their case, mumbled the spell to stop the charcoal smudging on the paper and grabbed his sketches, tucking them into his sketchbook as he hurried out of the door.
He was hurrying across the quad, fumbling with his sketchbook and art supplies and not looking where he was going, when he slammed into someone and sent both of them sprawling on the grass; Harry landing heavily on top of the unfortunate person with everything in his hands scattering around him.
Nick was late to one of his study groups at Tulane and was jogging across one of the quads to get to the library when he was taken out by, what seemed to be, a dark blur.
He lay on his back, stunned and slightly winded, with whoever had just knocked him lying on top of him. The guy (because it was impossible to be that close to someone and not know if they were female or not) scrambled up muttering apologies along the way.
Nick levered himself up on his elbows and winced at the bruise he could feel forming on his ribs. Damn the guy had pointy elbows. He was all set to tear into him when he finally got a good look at his pseudo-attacker and promptly forgot everything.
Messy black hair that looked like the guy had gone ten rounds under the sheets, startling green eyes and the most adorable smudge of what looked like charcoal on his left cheekbone.
And he was kneeling over him in the most interesting looking position he had seen anyone in, in quite a while.
He watched with curiosity as a faint blush of pink spread across the guy's face. Nick could swear that he had never seen this guy before in his life yet there was something primal in the way Nick could recognise him. It was like something buried deep down had stirred, taken notice and acknowledged that this person was his in a way he didn't really understand all that much. Yet.
"Well, hello there."
The guy started at the thick Cajun drawl and (Nick was pleased to note) even shivered a little. "I'm sorry, do we know each other?" He asked.
Nick closed his eyes and tried to regulate his body's response to the soft English accent. Could he get anymore perfect? He smirked. "No, but y'did feel very familiar."
The guy blushed and shifted, but didn't move from his position over Nick. It was almost as if didn't notice the position they were in and what it would look like to anyone else. "Um…er…s-sorry about..." he gestured vaguely at the two of them on the ground.
"Ah, no problem, cher." Nick's smirk turned predatory, "I'm sort of liking the position you've got me in anyway."
The guy's blush darkened and he ducked his head in embarrassment, his fringe dripping into his eyes and shadowing them as he scrambled off of Nick (much to Nick's disappointment).
But yes. Yes, it seemed he could become even more perfect. Nick suddenly found himself with the urge to teach him all sorts of things just to see how dark that blush could go.
Instead of just jumping the guy in the middle of the university campus like he really, really wanted to, Nick pushed himself up and started to help gather the guy's art supplies that had scattered when they had both fallen to the ground.
Without really meaning too, Nick glanced at the multitude of sketches and it was with some surprise that he found that he recognised the model.
"You know Hermione?" He asked, holding up the pages of charcoal sketches.
The guy looked up, startled. "Yes, she's my best friend." His eyes narrowed suspiciously, "How do you know her?"
Nick blinked. Best friend? Then it clicked, that was why the guy was so familiar, this was the Harry that Hermione always talked about in their study groups. He'd seen him from time to time when Hermione ran off to catch up with him – though he'd never seen much more then the back of his head and a far-off side profile.
Well, damn. If Nick had known just what Hermione had been hiding away he would have demanded that she bring him with her to their meetings so Nick could get more closely acquainted.
Of course, Nick would be completely distracted all the time...which sort of defeated the point of a study group...
It was with a jolt that Nick realised that he had been staring and not answering the guy - Harry's - question.
He smiled charmingly and held out his hand. "Nick Gautier, I'm in a study group with Hermione. And you must be Harry."
Harry still looked a little suspicious but Nick inwardly smirked when Harry rubbed the bridge of his nose smudging more of the charcoal before he clasped Nick's hand in a surprisingly strong handshake.
It felt right and Nick was inwardly smug to note that their hands fit perfectly together.
"Harry Potter. Nice to meet you."
Nick raised Harry's hand to his lips and brushed a kiss across the knuckles. "Oh, trust me, the pleasure is all mine, mon cher."
He smirked devilishly at Harry's stunned expression, handed him the pages he had collected and clapped him on the shoulder as he walked past, letting his hand brush across his shoulders and back, feeling the faint trembling under his palm.
"See you soon." He muttered to himself as he strolled the rest of the way across the grass to the library. He was unbelievably late to his study group but he didn't really care. He wanted to savour his meeting with Harry and try and come up with an argument to convince Hermione that she needed to bring Harry to their next study session.
At least without giving Hermione any suspicions that he'd rather have a private study session with her friend.
Hermione stormed into their shared apartment several hours later to find Harry sitting dazedly at the kitchen table, running his fingers over the back of his right hand.
She paused, feeling her irritation and confusion draining rapidly at the sight, and cleared her throat.
Harry's head shot up and he blinked a few times before he seemed to recognise who he was seeing. When he finally did recognise her, his eyes widened dramatically.
"Hermione! I was just coming to find you for lunch! I'm sorry I overran but I got caught up in my sketches and didn't notice the time until it had just gone three, I ran as soon as I noticed that I'd blown you off."
Hermione watched as he glanced around himself in confusion and just managed to catch a "must have come home to drop off my stuff…"
"Harry," she said slowly, "what time do you think it is?"
"Er…half three?" He guessed after some rough calculations.
Hermione snorted. "More like half eight. Have you just been sitting here doing nothing for five hours?"
Harry blinked. Then blinked again. "H-half eight?" He asked, stunned.
"Yes." Hermione nodded, her eyes narrowing, as she sank into a chair opposite him as he tried to wrap his head around the fact that he had lost track of five hours.
"I'm sorry, Hermione. I…I don't know what came over me…"
Hermione waved his apology off, her lawyer instincts peaked. "I was going to ask you where you had been all day," she said, cutting across him when he would apologise again, "but now all I really want to know is what you did to Nick to get him to bribe, beg and threaten me to bring you to our next study group."
She didn't even want to try and hold back the grin when Harry flushed a brilliant shade of red.
Now things were making sense again. Oh, she was going to enjoy this.
In answer to a question – Harry is 20/21, Nick is 22/23 and this is set about a year and a half before everything went tits up. And before you can ask, Hermione is studying with older students because she's an overachiever and wants study partners who are actually in the middle of the topics she's researching for fun.
Also – HAHAHAHAHA DRABBLE FIC! This is completely and obviously NOT going to be a drabble fic. I don't even know why I put that in the warnings in the first chapter. I think I was trying to kid myself. Instead I'm just gonna call it a snapshot fic.
Also, also! I suck so hard at angst that it's actually painful. Mainly because I'm not the kind of person to angst – I don't really see the point of it. I'm only trying to explain this now because some people might get their hopes up that this will be an Angsty Fic of Despair. And, while I will try my hardest to make the pain believable, it's not going to be the focus because I don't really know what self-wallowing feels like other than extreme self-irritation (and that's not what others feel, I'm sure).